Canadians are heading into the new year with a familiar resolution to tackle their over-levered balance sheets.
According to a poll released by CIBC on Thursday, 26 per cent of Canadians say paying down debt is their top personal finance priority for 2019. It's the ninth straight year that issue has landed at the top of Canadians' to-do lists in CIBC’s annual survey.
But recent data suggest Canadians haven't made much headway. Indeed, the household credit market debt-to-disposable-income ratio — a closely watched metric produced every quarter by Statistics Canada — reached 173.8 per cent in the third quarter. That was a near-record, indicating Canadians owe almost $1.74 for every dollar of disposable income.
The run-up in household debt has been top of mind for the Bank of Canada recently, with the central bank repeatedly stating it will keep a close eye on how Canadians are managing the effect of higher interest rates. Governor Stephen Poloz acknowledged in a speech on Dec. 6 that a prolonged period of "extraordinarily low" interest rates has led to "an accumulation of household debt of historic proportions."
CIBC's own polling suggests a significant proportion of Canadians are struggling to live within their means even as debt management consistently lands at the top of annual ranking of financial priorities. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents to the latest poll said they took on more debt over the last 12 months. Within that group, 34 per cent said they borrowed just to cover day-to-day bills.
And while more than one-quarter of Canadians are pledging to take aim at their debt in the new year, only six per cent of respondents to the CIBC poll said their top priority in 2019 is saving for retirement.
"There's rarely enough money to do everything, so it's critical to make the most of the money you earn by prioritizing both sides of your balance sheet – not debt or savings, but both," said Jamie Golombek, managing director of Financial Planning and Advice at CIBC, in a release.
"It boils down to tradeoffs, and balancing your priorities both now and down the road. The idea of being debt-free may help you sleep better at night now, but it may cost you more in the long run when you consider the missed savings and tax sheltered growth."
CIBC’s poll was conducted online Dec. 3 among 1,519 randomly-selected Canadian adults.